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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stewart

Beyond Words - The Super Power of Silence

Silence comes naturally to some people; they understand its power and feel comfortable when silent. It’s been said that the great orator Winston Churchill would walk slowly to the lectern prior to giving a speech, he would shuffle his papers, pull down on his lapels, and wait for the audience to grow quiet. Then, he would fumble for his spectacles while the audience grew quieter still. The audience was settling into the moment, and Winston knew this. Just as everyone thought the great man was about to speak, he would merely clear his throat, ratcheting up attention and anticipation and making the most of the silence.

Confucius said that silence is a true friend who never betrays.

But, in many ways, we’ve come to think of silence as a weakness or a vulnerability in our modern, Western world, and I make that distinction as it’s not necessarily true across Eastern countries. We think of silence as uncomfortable, maybe even undesirable, when in fact the opposite is true.

Think about the act of silence and inevitably you start to think of activities associated with thinking, such as meditation, clarity, creativity, focus, and peace of mind. How can those states of mind be undesirable?

In fact, silence speaks volumes, and can certainly say a lot about who you are.

If you’re interested, there is a lot of data available on the speed at which people speak. Language experts measure the pace of speech by words per minute (wpm). As you would imagine, the average speaking rate changes dramatically depending on the purpose of your speech. The average conversation rate for English speakers in the UK or USA is said to be between 120–150 wpm. If you’re presenting this will also likely be between 100–150 wpm for a comfortable pace. Audiobooks: are paced at between 150–160 wpm on average, which interestingly is the upper range that people can comfortably hear and vocalise words. Radio hosts and podcasters speak at an average rate of 150–160 wpm, auctioneers at about 250 wpm, and sports commentators between 250–400 wpm (depending on how excited they get). The average TED Talk speaking rate has been analysed at 173 words per minute.

The value of quiet however is harder to measure. You see, there is no speed of silence. When conversing there’s a lot more to quiet than just staying silent for chunks of time. For example, there’s the space between the words. Even pausing for a small fraction of a second can have a remarkable impact, forcing the audience to focus on what’s not being said. This can be very powerful when presenting.

Silence can be your super power, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Luckily, silence is an art that can be learned.

Here are 10 reasons why you need to learn to be silent:

1. It wins you attention. It is easy to win people’s attention and get them to listen to what you have to say using the power of silence. You don’t need any manipulative skills to do this; you simply need to be silent for people to naturally take note and offer their attention. This is similar to what happens in group settings; silence often gets everyone’s attention when the speaker pauses for a while. A signal is sent to the listener’s brain, and it recognises that a change has occurred, prompting them to figure out why. Imagine how easily you can gain control in a room full of people by harnessing the power of silence to gain attention.

2. It allows for effective listening. No one ever learned anything while they were talking. Succeeding in life involves listening to others, welcoming lots of advice, and giving yourself plenty of room for improvement. It’s impossible to receive this feedback and learn from the experiences of others if you’re a poor listener. People who practice silence tend to be good listeners because they’re always willing to let others speak first. No one achieves success accidentally; it is often the result of hard work and opportunities crossing paths. Being a terrible listener is the easiest way to watch opportunities slip by you without realising it. The more feedback you’re open to, the better your chances of improving and succeeding on your quest.

3. Achieve awareness. The world is flooded with noise and distractions, but people who pay attention can get past this disadvantage and discover how to make their lives better. You improve your awareness by practicing silence and observing things. Self-reflection is an important part of growth, but you may never find the time to practice it if you do not take some time away from all the chaos happening around you. By reflecting, you spend time within yourself to determine if your life is working out as you hoped. You also become more aware of other areas you want to improve on.

4. Silence helps you practice patience. We encounter events in our day-to-day lives that are bound to frustrate us. While you may not be in control of the actions of others that irritate you, you can control how you react to those situations by cultivating silence. You enjoy the calmness and peace that comes with being patient. The more you practice silence, the higher your tolerance levels. You savour the silent moments and build more patience to be able to weather life’s hassles.

5. Regain focus. It can be hard to concentrate when you have to manage the noise entering your brain all at once. Most people find it difficult to focus on tasks because of the little background noises around them. You can choose not to be part of the crowd that makes the world a place without focus. If you’ve ever wondered what you can do to concentrate better and achieve greater productivity, try silence. Find a silent environment and spend some time in it to see how much of a difference it makes to your level of focus.

6. Inspire creativity. There is no life without creativity, and there cannot be a creative process without silence. You might not consider yourself a creative person, but the truth is everyone applies some level of creativity to tasks in their daily lives. Visionaries are known to love solitude, and this isn’t because they hate interacting with the world. These individuals work alone for the major parts of their lives because it benefits their creative process. Working in a team has its advantages, but sometimes the best work happens when you shut your ears to the world outside and dedicate your focus to your craft.

7. Choose your words. Abraham Lincoln once said, “It’s better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” This is not to say you have to keep silent all the time, but the statement reinforces the power of silence and the risks associated with speaking thoughtlessly. Speaking without adequate information can make you appear unintelligent, a situation that could have easily been avoided by practicing silence. Good communication is not akin to talking too much. Silent people are not those who have nothing important to say; they speak less because they understand the importance of weighing words carefully before uttering them. When you spend more time deciding what to say and what not to, you end up choosing your words carefully.

8. Increased observation. When two people interact and one dominates the conversation, the quieter individual is more likely to be aware of their surroundings. Silent people have this advantage and can win with it in their business and personal lives. By practicing silence, you have more opportunities to be observant and pick up cues that others may have missed. There are always patterns in conversations that can only be picked up through adept observation. Silence places these patterns at your fingertips, which can guide you in formulating life strategies. The next time you’re unsure of your next move, give silence a try. I think you’ll be amazed.

9. Relieve stress. With excessive workloads and lots of deadlines to meet, you’re going to feel stressed from time to time, we all do. Silence can help reduce stress by decreasing your cortisol level. There are lots of other ways to de-stress, and if you’ve already found out what works for you, stick to it.

10. Empower others. Being a true leader involves empowering others. Sometimes you do this by giving directions, and at other times, you allow your followers to figure out the roadmap for achieving their goals. Leaders understand that to achieve a collective goal, you have to be interested in hearing others out. Silence means the willingness to sit back and listen to the thoughts of your peers. By allowing others to lead, you will gain respect and become more powerful.

It has to be said that moments of silence will not always come to you naturally; you may have to find them to reap the life-changing benefits they offer. Learning silence in a noisy world can be challenging, but with practice, it becomes a normal part of your life.

Good luck with your new Super Power.

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